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Don’t drop the deck: It’s the most important element on a Web page


August 28, 2013

Don’t drop the deck: It’s the most important element on a Web page

Decks — those one-sentence summaries under your headlines — do the heavy lifting online.

(Not sure what the deck is? The deck for the article to the right begins “As 20-Somethings...”)

Decks are essential because they:

  • Orient Web visitors at a glance, letting them know whether they’ve arrived at the right place
  • Offer a second layer of detail to scanners who don’t read word by word
  • Are the best-read element on a Web page
     

Put your message where your deck is.

According to The Poynter Institute’s 2004 Eyetrack III study of reader behavior:

  • 95 percent of visitors to a Web page read all or part of the deck. That’s huge when compared with any other element on the page.
     
  • Visitors spend five to 10 seconds, on average, looking at the deck. That seems like a flash, but it’s actually a significant investment of a Web visitor’s time.
     
  • Decks “may be the only thing many readers view,” Eyetrack III researchers say. If you want visitors to pay attention to your point, the researchers say, then put it in the deck.

So put a deck on every news release, blog post or Web page — every single piece you write or edit.

Scrub your decks.

To make these power tools of communication as effective as possible:

  1. Summarize the story in one short sentence. Make it a full sentence.
     
  2. Don’t repeat words from the headline in the deck. That’s right: Not. One. Single. Word. Not the name of the product. Not the name of the company. Not the name of the topic or story angle.

    Not. One. Single. Word.

    A deck is an extension of the headline. It should expand on the headline, not duplicate it. This is San Francisco real estate: Make each word count.

    To avoid repetition, you might cover:

    » The primary angle in the headline and a secondary angle in the deck: “In China’s earthquake zone, a culture fights to survive: Beijing reverses course, moves to help the Qiang” — USA Today

    » Broad news in the head, specific details in the deck: “Systems go for new runway safety lights: FAA touts anti-collision, $400M plan” — USA Today

    » “What happened?” in the head, “Now what?”  “How?” or “Why?” in the deck: “Kidney stone cases could heat up: Global warming cited as culprit” — USA Today
     
  3. Use sentence capitalization. But don’t include a period. Sentence Capitalization is Fresher and More Contemporary than Title Capitalization.
     
  4. Tell, don’t tease. Don’t try to trick visitors into reading your release, page or post. Instead, summarize the page so well that visitors can get the gist of the story without reading the text.
     
  5. Keep it short. People read decks and other display copy because they’re short and easy to scan. If you let your deck become a paragraph, then fewer people will read it.

    Aim for 14 words or fewer. That length is easy for people to read and understand, according to American Press Institute research.

Remember the deck.

Too many communicators leave the decks off of Web pages, press releases, marketing tools and articles. But why skip the best-read element on your page?

Copyright © 2013 Ann Wylie.  All rights reserved.

Reach readers with releases

Want more techniques for writing releases that get the word out? Join Ann Wylie for “Anatomy of a 2.0 Release: Get posted on portals, help Google find your site, reach readers online and more.” Attend this PRSA webinar at 3 p.m. EDT on Sept. 5.

 

Ann Wylie Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at ann@WylieComm.com
Email: ann at WylieComm.com



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